Cletus Lynch knew from the time he was a boy that he had a younger sister.
Barbara Mapes grew up knowing she was adopted, but she always felt she had a big brother out there somewhere, just beyond her reach.
“People don’t understand the heartache,” said Mapes. “I always felt like I’d been plopped down on this earth, and that it all started with me.”
“And,” said her brother, “I always felt like I was by myself.”
Both were raised as only children in small towns in Illinois, about 35 miles apart.
They would spend the greater portion of their lives searching for each other, but it wasn’t until last month that Mapes, 61, stepped off a plane at Greenville-Spartanburg Airport and was enfolded in her 63-year-old brother’s bear-hug of an embrace.
Through the years, each sibling’s quest to find the other was marked by disappointment and frustration. For more than three decades, Lynch and Mapes scoured phone books, courthouse records and libraries, with no success.
Then, in 2010, the state of Illinois passed legislation that opened up previously sealed birth records to adults who had been given up for adoption as children.
Mapes didn’t immediately seize the opportunity. “I was afraid of being disappointed again,” she said. “I was afraid of it being the end.”
Finally, however, she requested her birth certificate. Armed with her birth mother’s name and enlisting the help of an organization that helps adoptees find their biological families, Mapes was able to track down the elusive big brother she had always believed existed.
Several weeks ago, just a few days before he would receive a phone call that would forever alter the course of his life, Lynch was ready to give up searching for his sister. He had made another series of phone calls to public agencies in Illinois, only to be turned away because he had no legal standing to request the information.
“I’ve hit the last roadblock,” he told himself. “But when you get to the end of your rope, that’s when God begins to work.”
In a matter of days, a private investigator called Lynch’s home to say that Mapes was looking for him and would like to call. When the phone rang again, the voice on the other end said, “Hi, Cletus. I think I’m your sister.”
Three weeks later, following a flurry of phone calls, texting and Skype video chats, Mapes left her home 3,000 miles away in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, to spend a few days with Lynch and his wife, Marveena, at their home in Mauldin. Mapes’ husband, Chuck, joined her a few days later.
Even though it often seemed to Lynch that he might not find his sister, he “had faith that the Lord would make it right.”
“Everything works in God’s timing,” said Lynch, who attended college in South Carolina and served as a Southern Baptist pastor in the Upstate for 35 years before becoming a certified intentional interim pastor. “When you get to the end of the path, that’s when God takes over. I’m so thankful he did.”
Mapes said she understands that reuniting adoptees with their birth families doesn’t always turn out well, but she is firm in her belief that any adult adoptee should have the right to learn about his or her birth family. She and Lynch hope all states, including South Carolina, will join Illinois and nine other states that have opened up birth records.
“People in our situation should not give up hope,” she said. “Thirty-five years of searching is a long time, but you never give up.”
As for herself, she plans to spend a lot of time catching up with her big brother. She has invited him to visit her in Canada, and he said he wants to go there and ride on a dog sled.
For all the time they’ve been separated, they say they feel they’ve always known each other. They’re even finishing each other’s sentences.
“Now he calls me a motor-mouth,” she says, even as she leans in for another hug.
— Editor’s note: A CBS news story on Lynch and Mapes’ quest to find each other can be viewed at here.